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When India had a consulate general in Lhasa

April 25, 2014 10:10 IST

When India had a consulate general in Lhasa


Claude Arpi/

China has just turned down India's proposal for an Indian consulate in Lhasa, Tibet. Claude Arpi reveals how India once had a full-fledged consulate general office in Lhasa, which was shut down after the 1962 war.

The Nepalese newspaper The Republica recently reported: 'China has turned down India's proposal to establish its consulate general office in Lhasa, Tibet.'

The proposal was presented by Sujatha Singh, India's foreign secretary, during the 6th China-India strategic dialogue held in Beijing earlier this month.

According to The Republica, after meeting her Chinese counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, Singh told reporters that 'India will now plan a decisive talk with China in this regard.'

It probably signifies that the government is ready to drop the idea of reopening the Lhasa consulate. Nepal is today the only country to have a consulate general office in Lhasa.

Why? Simply, because the idea of having an Indian consulate general irritates the Chinese; it reminds them of the days when Tibet managed its own affairs.

Otherwise, the Sino-Indian bilateral situation is rosy. Liu affirmed that China is ready to work with India to advance the partnership to a new level, while Singh explained 'All political parties in India share a common ground on advancing India-China strategic cooperative partnership.'

Xinhua added: 'He (Sujatha Singh!!!) reiterated the Indian government's view of attaching high priority to its relations with China. He (!!!) said the Indian government is working to consolidate the strategic cooperative partnership that is oriented to peace and prosperity.'

Regarding the opening of a new consulate, it appears that Delhi would be satisfied with another consulate general in Chengdu (Sichuan) or Kunming (Yunnan province) instead of Lhasa.

This remains to be confirmed.

While Beijing is extremely keen to open an office in Chennai, Delhi thought it made sense to reopen the old mission in Tibet. India currently has two consulate general offices in Shanghai and Guangzou.

Let us not forget that India had a full-fledged mission in Lhasa between 1947 and 1952 when it was foolishly downgraded (under Chinese pressure) by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru into a consulate general.

After the 1962 Sino-Indian War, the Indian consulate general in Lhasa (and the three trade agencies in Yatung, Gyantse and the 'seasonal' one in Gartok) were closed.

In this context, a letter from P N Kaul, the consul general in Lhasa between 1959 and 1961, gives an interesting historical perspective. It is addressed to Kaul's successor Arvind Deo.

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Image: The Indian Trade Agency in Yatung. Then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru spent two nights here in 1958, on his way to Bhutan.
Photographs: The National Archives of India


When India had a consulate general in Lhasa

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Claude Arpi/

Note that in 1961 already, the Chinese were putting pressure on India to reduce the activities of the consulate, particularly trade.

Personal DO (Demi-official letter)

P N Kaul, IFSA (Indian Frontier Administrative Service)

Consul General

Lhasa, Tibet


To Shri A R Deo

Consul General Nominate

Camp Mumbai

September 15, 1961

I was informed by the ministry a month ago of your posting here as my replacement. I expected a communication from you for seeking clarifications on any minute details, but did not hear from you -- obviously because you are on leave. Yesterday's (diplomatic) bag (incidentally the bag comes here on every 4th, 14th and 24th of the month from Gangtok) brought in a few notifications regarding you from which I learnt your leave address.

You must personally have gone through the latest note on living conditions in Lhasa; I enclose a copy to be on the safe side. The note deals with most aspects. There are a few things, however, which you personally may be interested to be informed about:

a. The work here is very little indeed since March 1959. Social life outside our consulate general is nil; there being the Chinese foreign bureau and the royal Nepalese consulate general with whom you have only occasional formal social contacts. The new Nepalese consul general, Yak Thumba, arrived a week back and has been ill ever since -- he is, however, recovering fast.

b. We have clerical staff of one Sikkimese head clerk (local rank of vice consul), two Sikkim-based clerks, one Kalimpong boy as Tibetan translator-cum-librarian, one Sikkim-based wireless operator, one cypher assistant from Delhi and another assistant from Delhi just posted in replacement who functions as confidential assistant-cum PA; he also knows some Chinese having been a student in Peking for three years on a scholarship.

Besides there we have one assistant civil surgeon as our medical officer. All the above staff until recently had their families with them but the new vice consul and the newly posted assistant from Delhi are without their families here at present.

My only worthwhile recreation has been sporting in a mediocre game of tennis with my staff in the evening. There is no Indian community in Lhasa.

c. The staff and the local class IV servants are not overworked. Until recently I had an Indian personal bearer-cum-cook with me, but I was compelled to send him back as he created problems! I have since been able to easily to cope with one Gurkha class IV as my cook on payments during off hours, there being hardly much entertainment to outsiders. He is a reasonably fair cook, but has no knowledge of cooking of south and west Indian dishes.

One of the class IV, since I sent away my own servant, has been doing my bearer in spare time on payment. A personal bearer or a bearer-cum-cook would however, be useful but the snag is that they remain idle most of the time.

In the balance it would be worthwhile having one Indian servant with you. Please treat this as purely personal informal advice.

d. You do not need to bring any furniture or crockery with you. Rice (inferior), atta, Dalda, sugar, etc, it is advisable to purchase and dispatch from Gangtok itself and the shopkeepers do all the needful. Fine rice, papads, pickles and the like should be brought with you from India. Electricity is available here since two years and pressure cookers, heaters, firewood stoves, (bukkaries) are available in the consulate; you need to bring one electric iron for your use.

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Image: S Sinha, second left, head of the Indian Mission from 1950 to 1952 before it was downgraded, with officials of the Tibetan government in Lhasa.
Photographs: The National Archives of India

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When India had a consulate general in Lhasa

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Claude Arpi/

There is a radiogram and a radio in your residence; there only two dozen long playing records though, you can order more later on. The living quarters are tolerable enough for Lhasa. Needs of clothing, etc. have been fully explained in the note on living conditions.

There is a Toshakhana (literarily treasure-house; in this case, presents for the Tibetan authorities and receptions) grant of about Rs 4,000 per annum for entertainment. Stocks of liquor, cigarettes, sausages, cheese and the like are adequate in the Toshakhana. I have been purchasing my par needs from it, though it has been objected to by the AGCR (Auditor General & Central Audit).

You can order for yourself from Calcutta drinks, imported tinned items like milk, Kraft cheese, sausages and bacon duty free from Calcutta. There will be hardly be any vegetables during winter and you are coming towards the beginning of the winter season. I have, however, got some tomatoes dried for you, besides you will be able to get fresh cabbage and turnip preserved in hot house and the universal potato.

There is one consulate Willys station wagon mainly for your use, the second one is on its last legs and its replacement should materialise through DGSD (Directorate General of Supplies & Disposals) in three to four months time. If you have time in Delhi you may see Shrinivasan, under secretary (TG) and expedite its materialising.

  1. No foreign exchange problems are involved here. You get your pay in rupees; market exchange rupee-yuan is favourable to us. Rupees remittance facilities through bank drafts issue by the office exists. Our mail takes 10 to 15 days to reach here. Telegrams at India rates can be sent over the Chinese P&T channels.
  2. Most of our things of necessity are not available locally. On an average one truck on hire for our stores and rations materialise from Yatung to Lhasa monthly. One has to furnish requirement indent to Chinese one month in advance.
  3. The consulate care will fetch you and your essential baggage from Yatung. A truck will be indented for to bring your heavy baggage and any stores lying at Yatung. Your baggage should be made into 35 seers leads as it has to travel from Gangtok to Yatung by ponies/porters. An odd heavier essential package is, however, managed by porters at higher rates.

In case you have any further clarifications to seek please send a signal over tour Delhi-Lhasa wireless link, or a telegram if advisable.

Please do let us know your exact date of arrival in Gangtok and Yatung. I suggest you spend four days at Gangtok, although I am quite anxious to leave soon.

You may consult A K Sen and director S (Sumal) Sinha for further details as both were Ex-CG (Consul General) in Lhasa.

With my very best wishes and regards.



Source: The National Archives of India

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